The Power of the Business Card
Important new contact: “Do you have a business card?

You: “…erm, no, sorry.

Without a business card, even the most genuine promise to reconnect is offered in vain. That temporary power of influence one carefully builds in conversation, that power of visibility, power of impact, and power of reach, immediately disintegrates before your eyes as your interlocutor politely excuses himself to mingle with some slightly more serious company. Your name is as memorable to him as the name of the doorman who bid you goodnight is to you.

Did you catch his name?

No, of course you didn’t. How could you, with so many prestigious guests to meet? But, as a matter of fact, many people do remember the doorman’s name, typically their doorman, the gentleman who kindly greets them at eight o’clock each morning as they leave for work. When repeated physical interaction occurs, memories are reinforced and relationships are sustained.

His name is Irving and each day for the past seven years, he dutifully operates his station at six o’clock sharp. His wife’s birthday is next week, and he is very proud that his only daughter recently passed the New York State bar examination after studying at Columbia Law School, though she is still struggling to secure employment.

But who are you, again?

How can you acquire Irving’s level of memorability? How can you gain the power inherent to physical presence without possessing the quality of physical presence itself?

The business card is a small, 3.5 x 2 inch ticket that may transport you to such power. It is the only tangible piece on your person that may be politely gifted to another professional as a visible reminder of your importance.

The following is a list of helpful tips on how to wield the power of the business card:

1. Be sure that your business card is as ordered, attractive, and clean looking as you are.

If you think of your business card as an extension of yourself, surely you would want it to make as good an impression as you did in conversation the night you gave it out. Be sure the font is legible, the text well organized, the designs and images cleanly printed, important information prominently presented, and superfluous information stricken (especially misattributed quotations). Just as your tie complements your shirt, or your clutch purse matches your dress, be sure your business card matches your resume.

2. Always carry a business card on your person.

Some events are just made for networking. You can quickly recognize the importance of carrying a set of business cards with you when you attend them. But always keep a deck on you, should you find other players outside such events. You never know who you might bump into on the subway, at the coffee shop, or at an informal gathering.

3. Assess the appropriateness of business card exchange on a case by case basis.

Take care not to go hog wild in distributing your business card. Liberality is a virtue, but wastefulness is a vice, and your business card is a limited resource with only one’s time being more valuable. Offer it only when a genuine mutual connection has been established or when an opportunity reveals itself. Handing a business card to someone is a gesture that says, “I am willing to invest some time and speak with you again, here is my contact information should you need it.” It is not advisable to promise this to every Tom, Dick, and Harry you meet. Think strategically.

4. Hand business cards without expecting anything in return, but hand a business card should you be given one.  

Should you succeed in establishing a strong basis for furthering dialogue, do not shy away from offering your business card. But give without expecting something in return, for there are no obligations for the other party tied to your generous act. At the same time, it is merely polite to hand a business card to someone who offers one to you, but essential to do so if you want a chance to solidify that connection.

5. Handwrite a note on the back of all business cards you receive.

Upon receiving a business card, quickly jot down notable facts about the person that were brought up in conversation on the back of the business card once you find privacy and still have a working memory. Such information might include expressed interests, past positions they’ve held, persons or organizations within their network, and so on. In addition to the business card, you’ll discover latent power in the pen. Always carry a writing utensil on your person as well.

6. Follow-up immediately with newfound acquaintances with whom you intend to maintain a professional relationship.

Message your newfound acquaintance within a 24-hour period. A prompt, thankful email or invitation to coffee might solidify a connection that would otherwise dissolve in the sea of competition for attention.

7. Diligently organize all acquired business cards and produce a detailed catalog of your activity.

Collect your cards like precious jewels. How will you keep record of them? You might want to organize them alphabetically, by date acquired, or by personal value to you. Your grandfather’s Rolodex might come in handy. Finally, catalog who you met, at what event, where that event took place, and when that event happened.

8. Do not fear handing your business card out vertically as well as horizontally.

It is quite easy and natural to mingle horizontally to peers of similar station. How much in common you have! It is less natural, yet no less important, to mingle vertically as well – upwards and downwards. Do not feel shy approaching persons of higher station than you, and likewise do not be so haughty and arrogant when someone of lower station approaches you. You will not know what potential they might have, positions they have open, where they will be in the near future, or who they know. Keep your ears open, and a little generosity and humility can go a long way.

Remember what the doorman said!